15 March 2012

Cloud computing and flash crashes

Bryan Ford of Yale University has just posted a disturbing paper entitled ‘Icebergs in the Clouds: the Other Risks of Cloud Computing’, which outlines some of the hidden risks of cloud computing. According to the abstract:
Cloud computing is appealing from management and efficiency perspectives, but brings risks both known and unknown. Well-known and hotly-debated information security risks, due to software vulnerabilities, insider attacks, and side-channels for example, may be only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ As diverse, independently developed cloud services share ever more fluidly and aggressively multiplexed hardware resource pools, unpredictable interactions between load-balancing and other reactive mechanisms could lead to dynamic instabilities or ‘meltdowns.’ Non-transparent layering structures, where alternative cloud services may appear independent but share deep, hidden resource dependencies, may create unexpected and potentially catastrophic failure correlations, reminiscent of financial industry crashes. Finally, cloud computing exacerbates already-difficult digital preservation challenges, because only the provider of a cloud-based application or service has the ability to archive a ‘live,’ functional copy of a cloud artifact and its data for long-term cultural preservation. This paper explores these largely unrecognized risks, making the case that we should study them before our socioeconomic fabric becomes inextricably dependent on a convenient but potentially unstable computing model.

Personally, it is enough to make me wary of entrusting my data to the cloud. In fact, I wonder if I have already gone too far in that direction by using Gmail. Loss of my emails and contacts thanks to Gmail crashing would be not be a complete disaster but it would be at the very least a time-consuming annoyance.

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